As part of our partnership with GALWAD, Francesca Pickard explains the benefits of involving young people in the arts at all levels.
In the wake of the pandemic, we have seen a clear shift across the arts in Wales as organisations seek to redress the imbalance of power, providing much needed room for more diverse voices and a new wave of makers and storytellers.
Alongside this tidal shift, attitudes towards young people are changing, granting them real agency to impact change in some of our most celebrated cultural institutions and in projects that want to envision a different future here in Wales. With the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act holding organisations to account if they don’t meet the obligation to consider their long-term impact, has there ever been a better time to be a young person in Wales, hungry for change and ready to help make it happen?
‘It is far more fun and surprising to make with young people, rather than purely for’
The virtues of being involved in Youth Arts have long been extolled, with drama and dance classes championed as places where youngsters who don’t “fit in” have found their tribe; where the individuality that can make someone feel vulnerable in a formal education setting can be nurtured and celebrated. Parents often cite transferable skills such as confidence, communication and self-expression as a reason for taking part in an artistic activity but, in reality, much of the delivery has been through a top-down model where creativity is facilitated by those supposedly in possession of greater experience, knowledge and skill. In addition, these crucial cultural experiences haven’t always been universally available or accessible.
What we are now seeing throughout the sector is a new appreciation for the value that young voices can bring, not only to creative endeavours, but to strategic planning and leadership. Last year, Bangor-based Frân Wen recruited their first cohort of Young Associates, offering 16 to 21 year-olds something beyond a role in their exciting Young Company. Those securing a place can influence all aspects of the company’s direction, as Artistic Director, Gethin Evans, explains.
“We are so proud to collaborate with young people in all our thinking and decision making, from governance to programming, creative development and most recently forming the vision for our new home, Nyth, in Bangor. Only through this way of working do we believe our work speaks to our audience and truly represents contemporary Wales”.
This approach embodies the company’s commitment to developing and empowering the next generation of arts makers and leaders and as Gethin is also keen to point out “it is far more fun and surprising to make with young people, rather than purely for”.
Youth-focused organisations with a national remit are also finding new ways to empower young people with a say in what sort of art and culture they want and need. With funding from the Arts Council of Wales, National Youth Arts Wales (NYAW) and Youth Arts Network Cymru (YANC) have reached out directly to young people through a youth led consultation process, that has resulted in a comprehensive report and a number of recommendations. Featured among these is a pan-Wales, youth-led network, ringfenced funding for young creatives and a simplified application process, with additional support. The group also requested a seat at the table in the Arts Council’s deliberations over what work gets made and by whom.
In response, the Arts Council has committed to a continued dialogue with young people to explore network models and confirmed that they will invest in developing a new funding programme to support projects led by young people.
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It is not just those institutions that specialise in working with young people who are facilitating this seed change. Wales Millennium Centre has recruited a cohort, known as the Youth Collective, to help shape and ensure the relevance of its future work to young people. Led by Creative Associate, Sita Thomas, and Fahadi Mukulu, former chair of Cardiff’s Youth Council, the group will ensure young voices are embedded in decision making across the centre, creating, as Fahadi puts it, “an organisation that is responsive to the needs and wants of young people in the local and wider community, by challenging the status quo and championing meaningful change”.
Standalone projects of scale have also sought to include younger voices in their internal processes, as well as their public facing output. Collective Cymru, the cohort of organisations behind GALWAD, led by National Theatre Wales, was so inspired by the energy and ambition of the youth arts sector that they offered bursaries to 12 people from diverse backgrounds to form a Young Company to help shape and deliver the project. This group co-created their own unique learning journeys and enhanced the project with their knowledge, lived experience, creative skills and considerable understanding of contemporary audiences and platforms.
It is more important than ever that our young people can see beyond the treacherous waves to a more optimistic horizon.
As Creative Director, Claire Doherty, states, “Wales has an exceptional track record of ground-breaking work with young people – from Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team Wales (EYST) to the Future Generations Leadership Academy, from Omidaze’s Democracy Box to the work of the freelancers and organisations at the heart of the Youth Arts Network Cymru. GALWAD [was able to build] on these practices to embed a pan-Wales network into the heart of the creation of a significant cultural project”. National Theatre Wales now has the opportunity to take this work forward as part of the new youth strategy they are devising.
Many of us want to be part of a more inclusive, tolerant, accepting society. One where short-term gain and greed are replaced by long-term stability and equality and where the wellbeing of the planet sits firmly at the top of the agenda. Young people are the drivers of that change, and the arts are instrumental, not only in helping us reflect on the present, but also in enabling us to picture the future world we want to exist in.
As we navigate the choppy post-Covid waters, impending climate emergency and the looming cost of living crisis, it is more important than ever that our young people can see beyond the treacherous waves to a more optimistic horizon. If they are allowed to set the course and steer the ship, it is hopefully a destination we are all more likely to reach.
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